News & Media

In a leap of faith, Cassill seizes Cup opportunity

June 18, 2011, Mark Aumann,

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- When Landon Cassill came to Michigan International Speedway this time last year, his career wasn't as much at a crossroads as it was heading down what appeared to be a dead-end road.

The former Hendrick Motorsports development driver had no full-time ride, no prospects for one and at 20, was out of ideas as to what to do next.

"In a world where you need to have money to give to the race teams to get in these seats, we've had to invent a new way to make it."


"I was left for dead at this time last year," Cassill said. "I was probably getting ready to sell used cars back home."

Then car owner James Finch offered Cassill an unusual opportunity: qualify Finch's No. 09 Chevrolet Cup car with the knowledge that he'd be asked to start-and-park it on Sunday.

Cassill had to weigh the options. Was he willing to accept the stigma of being considered a start-and-park driver for the chance to keep his name in front of potential employers?

"It was James who called me," Cassill said. "But on the other hand, it was still my decision to accept the opportunity. And it was definitely a leap of faith. At the time, the car had not made the last three or four races. So you're kind of putting yourself at risk, like 'what am I getting myself into? If I miss this race, then everybody will probably write me off. He can't do it.'

"It was a leap of faith, on my part and James' part. I was unproven in the Cup Series but he had known the testing I had done."

Cassill decided the positives outweighed the negatives, and his faith was eventually proven correct when he made the field.

"Making that race was huge," Cassill said. "That race -- my first ever Cup start where I qualified 35th and finished 38th -- was one of the biggest races of my career. That's a race that is definitely a defining moment for me."

For the rest of 2010 and three races early this season, Cassill proved willing to jump into any ride, get it in the show and then get out when asked. In addition to being a Finch fill-in, Cassill qualified -- then start-and-parked -- cars for Kevin Buckler, Larry Gunselman and Germain Racing. He proved to be a quick learner, qualifying 20th at Indianapolis and 15th in his return to Michigan in August.

"It's not like I had any Cup opportunities at the time anyway," Cassill said. "It was pretty well known why I was there and why I was start and parking, and it was because I was trying to pave a new way for young drivers to make it in because I don't have money attached to me to go to these teams.

"In a world where you need to have money to give to the race teams to get in these seats, we've had to invent a new way to make it. At the time, the only people start and parking were drivers that had been around for a while, veterans who would just go out and make a few laps."

Cassill didn't want to be labeled as a driver not good enough to run complete races in NASCAR's premier series. But at the same time, when you don't know where the money's going to come from to pay the bills, Cassill realized he couldn't be too choosy.

"It's definitely tough," Cassill said. "It's not something anybody ever wants to think of. You don't want to plan your own funeral, by any means. I'm just very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to do something like this, and that it wasn't somebody else.


2.D. Reutimann188.68438.159
3.Matt Kenseth188.62038.172
4.Brian Vickers188.15738.266
5.Regan Smith187.60738.378

"It was just worry, like a 'What am I going to do' type deal? It's when the money starts running out, when there's no paychecks coming in, when there are no more testing opportunities available, that's when you start wondering what you're going to do."

It was at Fontana in the spring when Finch called again, this time with a sponsor in tow. And he wanted Cassill back in the car, this time for the entire race. Since then, Cassill's been consistently steady, pushing the team solidly into the top 35 in owners points.

"I went from start and parking to driving for this team," Cassill said. "Obviously with the sponsor on board, it's still a battle every week. You know, you still have to run good every single week. You can't tear up race cars. And we've strugged with all of that.

"We've had bad runs. We've wrecked. But we've also had good runs. And it's just trying to keep that momentum going and not letting the bad affect you too much."

Last week at Pocono, Cassill found himself in the lead late in the race and praying for a downpour.

"That would have been cool," Cassill said. "It was cool to be in that position at the end of the race and have a shot at a top-five or top-10 or even a win if it were to rain. Hopefully, we can back it up with another run this week."

But Cassill understands there's little job security in his current situation. So he's taking it one race at a time, even though he qualified 12th for Sunday's race, the best a Phoenix Racing car has ever qualified at Michigan.

"To me, it's a 'we'll see,' because every week I've got to prove myself," Cassill said. "I'm not under contract. It's an opportunity that James has given me that I need to keep working for, week in and week out. I get a paycheck from him. I'm not in a negotiating position. It's something where I'm extremely blessed to have this opportunity and have a sponsor like this on board.

"Obviously, he's never had a full Cup season where he's raced, and to have made it this far as his driver is an accomplishment in itself. They've gone through a lot of drivers here. I think seven is the most anyone has gone in a row. To keep driving for this guys, to keep digging for it, is what's on my agenda right now."